LONDON - They kept in touch, she said Friday, by telephone, text message, and e-mail. They met at lunches and dinners. They socialized at cocktail parties, birthday parties, summer outings, Christmas celebrations, and, in one heady instance, on a yacht in Greece.
So chummy were the relations between Britain’s political leaders and Rebekah Brooks, a former chief executive of Rupert Murdoch’s British newspaper subsidiary, that at one point Brooks found herself cheekily lecturing a future prime minister, David Cameron, about how to avoid humiliating himself by text message, she said.
“Occasionally he would sign them LOL - ‘lots of love,’ ’’ Brooks told the Leveson Inquiry on media ethics and practices, speaking of Cameron’s text messages to her when he was the leader of the opposition, “until I told him it meant ‘laugh out loud.’ Then he didn’t use that any more.’’
Brooks had been summoned to the inquiry to speak to its current focus: the relationship between politicians and the media in Britain. The picture she painted was one of seemingly unfettered access for her and, implicitly, for her boss, Murdoch.
By her account, when political leaders were not arranging birthday parties for her or meeting her for cozy private dinners or sending her notes or attending her wedding, she was picking up the phone to chat with them - or sometimes to cajole or strong-arm them into seeing things her way.
But even as she described all that, Brooks repeatedly declared that they did not have to listen to her if they did not want to, and that the British media did not exert any special influence over politicians. When Robert Jay, the counsel for the inquiry, put it to her that media executives and editors were “unelected forces’’ influencing policy by exercising power over governments, Brooks said she disagreed.
“Your power is your readership,’’ she said. “It’s not an individual power. It’s a readership power.’’ And, she said, “every day, the readers can unelect us’’ by deciding not to buy the paper.
Brooks, 43, has became a central figure in the phone-hacking scandal that has swept through News Corp., Murdoch’s company, and the upper echelons of Britain’s political and law-enforcement elite. A Murdoch confidante and favorite, she worked as editor of News of the World, the paper at the center of the scandal, and of The Sun, another Murdoch tabloid, before being appointed chief executive of News International, the British newspaper subsidiary, in 2009.
She resigned last summer, and she is the subject of a criminal investigation into the matter. But at the time, even as some public figures were fulminating against News International, they were privately sending her messages of support, either directly or indirectly, she said.